Weathering winter with events

Features - Marketing

Maintaining traffic during the off season can be difficult, but there are many ways garden centers can bring both repeat visitors and new customers into their stores. Here’s how three IGCs prevent winter woes and create winter wins.

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November 4, 2019

Sargent’s Nursery upholds its seasonal tradition of art and community with collaboration from Red Wing Arts Association.

Since 2010, Sargent’s Nursery has contributed to Minnesota’s artistic spirit with its annual Winter Art Fair. There, they have showcased handcrafted pottery, home décor, photography, art and jewelry from regional artists and crafters. The nursery is gearing up for the ninth year of the event.

“Our goal was to utilize our retail greenhouse space in the winter months,” says Trisha Hadler, event coordinator and office manager at Sargent’s. “Red Wing has lots of strong roots in the art area and has lots of opportunities to enjoy art. This event adds one more thing for the community to do.”

To gather local vendors for the fair, the nursery works with nonprofit, interactive arts educational program Red Wing Arts Association, which not only fills their greenhouse, but highlights the local talent in the area as well. Since the association aims to provide regional artists with exposure and visibility, the Winter Art Fair at Sargent’s Nursery is a perfect fit.

As a free event for the community, instead of profits, the nursery measures success by the number of people who attend, especially during the bitter Minnesota winters.

“If we can draw a good crowd and the weather holds out, we consider that a success,” Hadler says. “We just want to get people in the door.”

A few ways the nursery attracts attendees are by sending out information via the large mailing lists distributed by themselves and Red Wing Arts Association, along with word-of-mouth promoting and advertisements on local radio and in newspapers.

While the number of attendees is dependent upon the weather, Hadler says their typical number of attendees range from 700 people on a day with good weather and 500 when the weather is bad.

However, no matter how big or small, as the event coordinator, Hadler says she just enjoys offering a winter activity and seeing the fair unfold after everyone’s dedication.

“I like having an event in the midst of winter, meeting all the vendors and seeing the hard work that they’ve been doing pay off,” she says. “It’s typically a fun event.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF SARGENT’S NURSERY
PHOTO COURTESY OF SARGENT’S NURSERY

The main attraction

Froehlich’s Farm and Garden Center continues its family-friendly tradition by holding seasonal events the whole community can enjoy.

Since 1942, the welcoming allure of Froehlich’s Farm and Garden Center has impressed generations of customers in Furlong, Pennsylvania. Now, 77 years later, they are constantly thinking of ways to engage the neighborhood and maintain a family feel. One way the farm caters to the community is with its annual fall festival, petting zoo and visit with Santa.

While the petting zoo originally started during Froehlich’s fall festival, the excitement that it caused inspired the farm to implement it into the annual Santa visit as well.

“We quickly realized that was one of the biggest draws we had,” says Shaina, a fourth-generation Froehlich. “We’ve done the Santa visits for five years, but last year was the first year we added the petting zoo.”

To market the events, Froehlich sends newsletters, creates Facebook events, uses roadside banners, promotes through their website and social media, advertises in local magazines and even does giveaways. But the petting zoo alone enhanced the Santa visit by a long shot.

“We probably quadrupled our traffic and doubled our retail sales just in that one day of having the petting zoo down in our area,” she says. “It really just shows how much these events draw families and kids and everyone to the farm.” The farm — which sits on 107 acres of land — was preserved by Froehlich’s great grandmother in 1996 and is one of the few remaining farms in the surrounding area. While it’s good for business, Froehlich is sad to see any farm disappear, and is proud to hold events that include people in her hometown.

For the 2019 year, Froehlich says they’re looking to enhance the attendee experience at the fall festival and Santa visit by continuing the Grinch visit that was new last year and adding live reindeer and horse-drawn wagon rides.

Although the farm offers a multitude of attractions, Froehlich advises those who are interested in launching events to start small, build from there and prepare to make mistakes. According to her, when they first launched the fall festival eight years ago, they’d average a few hundred people.

Now they average about 2,000 people a day, which is one of her favorite reasons for holding events.

“It brings a lot more people out to the farm and I think it strengthens the community,” she says. “We get to share our farm and business with everyone and a place I’ve grown up with my entire life. People get to come in and experience our farm, garden center and everything we have to offer. It becomes special to them and it’s really cool to be able to share that.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF FROEHLICH’S FARM AND GARDEN CENTER
PHOTO COURTESY OF FROEHLICH’S FARM AND GARDEN CENTER

Ladies' night out

Merrifield Garden Center kicks off the holiday season with a night to remember.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MERRIFIELD GARDEN CENTER

Merrifield Garden Center has prided itself on great customer service, quality selections and community involvement since its founding year of 1971. To maintain its community mission, the center supports local schools, nonprofit organizations, athletic clubs and charities. Another way it nurtures its neighborhood connection is with seasonal events.

To kick-start the fourth quarter, Merrifield holds a Ladies’ Night Out every Thursday before Thanksgiving at its three locations in Falls Church, Fairfax and Gainesville, Virginia. The anticipated event received an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 attendees last year.

“About 10 years ago, we wanted to harness the energy we were receiving from customers about the opening of our Christmas shop,” says Marketing Director Lyndsey Bridgers. “… Since the majority of our Christmas shop customer base is female, Ladies’ Night Out was a natural fit.”

For the ninth time, the garden center will have hors d’oeuvres, live music, wine tastings and a photo booth — as it does each year. The store setup also offers gift ideas and Christmas décor inspiration for attendees to take home with them.

According to Bridgers, Ladies’ Night Out is exactly that. Women invite their friends, family and colleagues and even mark their calendars for the next year.

“They come in groups and make an evening of it,” she says. “Ladies’ Night Out provides the opportunity to socialize, relax, get into the holiday spirit and connect with extended members of the community [they] may not see frequently. Every year we see old neighbors, past teachers and parents reconnecting.”

Although some attendees save the date or call ahead to verify, the center promotes the night out on its website and social media, as well as in the trifold brochures they mail to customers each season.

While this outing is for adults only, Merrifield holds family-friendly events as well. The weekend after Thanksgiving, the center hosts a free holiday open house that offers family photos, live music, kids crafts and group activities. (Plus a wine tasting for the adults in the afternoon.)

They also have Santa visits and a North Pole post office where kids write letters to him. But that’s not it. They also offer kids potting classes, a dog costume contest around Halloween and more. For adults, the center holds Christmas tree decorating classes.

Other sessions like vegetable growing, pruning lessons and houseplant propagating tutorials are available throughout the year.

Bridgers says she enjoys bringing people together and gives advice to garden centers who aim to do the same.

“Plan your event like you would a party at your own home,” she says. “You want it to feel personal, encourage connections and create a relaxing environment where customers can enjoy themselves. When it comes to the night of, have someone on your event planning team attend your event like a customer. This will allow them to see things from the customers’ perspective and easily identify areas in need of improvement.”